For most people in the Nigerian fashion industry, there are certain rules that need to be strictly followed. From well tailored pants and suits with minimal details for men, to flamboyant dresses laced with exaggerated sleeves, thigh-high slits and unrealistic bust cuts for women. You’re either here or there; no interphases, fine lines, balances, or in-betweens.
This school of thought is highly problematic because it’s spanned from a long term learning experience of strict social construction. Because Nigeria is a country deeply rooted in conservatism especially with regards to expressive appearances, doors that lead to rooms filled with exploration and forward thinking are being shut without an attempt to after-thoughts or its implications.
This is not to say that androgynous fashion in Nigeria has not found its footing. There are quite a number of brands who have defied the hetero-normative delineation of what clothing should be, as they do every thing to beat the lines of limitations set before them. Although it’s a pretty tedious and slow process, the works they put in are showing out and showing off, garnering both local and international recognitions/awards.
The case is especially different — difficult of some sort, for the country’s youngest brands; because although there’s a whole wealth of experience to learn from already established androgynous brands, it’s most likely impossible to learn and understand without having personal experiences. I had very lengthy conversations with the Fonders of some of Nigeria’s young and promising androgynous brands, who shared insights and thoughts on the future of androgyny in Nigeria.
Taofeek Yahaya is the Founder of eponymous fashion brand, Bola Yahaya Nigeria. After winning the design category of Dare2Dream season 5, the talented designer was officially ushered into the world of Nigerian fashion. From having a middle name, Alabi, which literally translates to “he who was born with a white cloth,” to creating pieces greatly inspired by traditional Yoruba River goddesses and deities — Yemoja, Oshun, and Obatala who is a genderless god portrayed as male in the conservative Nigerian setting, the self-taught designer is making irresistible renditions of androgynous clothing.
“I have a great body, so I always try on my pieces,” were a few of the first words the designer said to me when we hopped on a call, before expressing his non-binary and gender questioning identity. “At the moment, I am Non-binary and gender questioning, with most of my pieces greatly inspired by my queerness,” they say. “I want to make clothes that reflect who I am as a person.”
As a designer and an overall entrepreneur, there’s the notion that you’re your own advertisement. Although Nigeria is deeply rudimentary, receptions to androgyny could be welcoming especially when surrounded by those who see the values the designers are aiming at. “Reception has been positive, and that’s because I intentionally surround myself with people who share the same values as me,” they say. “Although I first consider myself as an andro womenswear brand, the bulk of my clients are guys. They’re drawn to a few intricate details I adorn the clothes with, especially cowl and ruffles.”
For designers like Bola, starting the fashion brand was first an act of defiance before it became a way of life. Looking at the many ways social constructs have eaten deep into the very fabrics of humanity, the birth of platforms that challenged and asked relevant questions was due. The brand was built to push the agenda for comfort, empowerment and inclusivity, especially for people who have been marginalised for a long time. “I know it’s pretty late, but for the AW/21 collection I’m working on, I used Trans models. I saw the joy on their faces, and it was an empowering moment for both me and them.”
The future of androgynous fashion in Nigerian is pretty massive, according to Bola. Based on self research and discretion, the designer is predicting a 60% chance in the coming years. “People are starting to unconsciously embrace androgyny. There’s even the current trend for both queer and non-queer folks, painting their nails with varying colours,” they say. “Queer people are starting to find themselves in very influential positions. From working with artists, to being artists. They’re influencing a younger generation of people, and it’s great to see.”
“My androgynous clothing brand make me look and feel fierce. I do not fear confrontations. It’s basic functions are to cover nakedness, and no one has a right to question how I cover mine.”
MayTobs is a personal favourite brand whose works animated from the need for difference and personal aesthetics. From creating powerful pants with trains, to building tops with very severe, noticeable cuts and details, the brand which was founded by the talented Emmanuel Tobiloba officially kicked off in 2020, and has since then (and times prior), created pieces that takes its wearers to an utopian world of genuine fallacy and surreal emotions.
The eccentric brand Founded by the final year student of Business Administration, is indeed a savoury rendition of androgyny. The pieces are built on lived experiences, showing to a larger extent, the Founder’s personal style and representations. “I basically design for myself and those who like what I represent,” he says over a call. “I want my brand to reflect and be a representation of who I am. I want people to find a strong relationship with what I do.”
For brands like Mayetobs, there was a pretty rough and challenging start. However, when fashion icon, Elsa Schiaparelli, made the quote “in difficult times, fashion should always be outrageous,” it seemed to be like it was made for them. Amidst a former poor reception, Tobi, as he is popularly called, found a way to continue to inspire himself, grooming the brand to being a young fashion powerhouse in the androgynous space. “When I started designing, I had more negative comments than I did with the positive,” he says. “However, I found a way to inspire myself and others. It has been a success so far, and I am indeed proud of what I have built, especially with the shoes collection.”
Tobi’s shoes collection is one for the books. It shows the very intricate designs of what androgyny is. From using simple colours matched with minimalistic designs and properly sourced materials, the shoe line immediately bought the hearts of shoe lovers looking to bless their feet with regularities that are totally irregular. “When I launched my footwear collection, the feedback was amazing. A lot of people bought into it, and I was once again reminded why I do what I do.”
Tobi’s intense start and the growth his brand has garnered over the years, is a subtle reminder of what consistency can birth. “There are not many people willing to be patient in breaking this sphere of the industry. I think it’s why the process seems slow and thorny,” he says.
Because androgyny is still foreign especially to a select number of millennials and Gen X’ers who currently hold a vast amount of power and can pass very unfavourable judgements like SSMPA on misunderstood lifestyles like androgyny, interested people are hesitant in being a part of it. “I think people are interested, but are scared for their safety. It’s why I respect brands like OrangeCulture. I also think people are interested, but are scared there’ll be no potential market.”
“I’m not sure why, but I really find so much comfort with what I do. I just want to see colours, flair, cuts, and so on. It’s like a Lifestyle for me, with a ready-made template to express myself. Androgyny is my aesthetic, and I can’t get out of it. I do not want to.”
When Founder and Creative Director, Michael Dukun started this brand, going through the regular route and signing off on conventional approaches was something he didn’t endorse. The brand’s launch was so good, it pivoted from the very beginning; the process was so good, you could tell it was a well laid out decision; and the clothing renditions were so great, you could literally taste the thoughtfulness put into it. Every piece, every design detail, and every choice of fabrics, was created with intentionality.
Although the brand has been running for a while, it officially kicked off in 2020. The Fonder, a 2017 Pharmacy graduate from the University of Benin is from the Southern part of Nigeria, where his approach to fashion — sustainability, was greatly influenced. “I have always had an interest in fashion,” he told me via a zoom call. “I grew up with my paternal grandma, whose sense of fashion was something I was totally inspired by. They were my introduction to fashion.”
For most of us who had to study designers and designs, and read up about sustainability from existing journals, sustainable fashion was something that came naturally for Michael. After picking up scraps from multiple tailor shops around his former residential city in Warri, Delta state, Nigeria, he’d hand-sew them into shapes.
Just like every other aspects in fashion the talented Dukun has threaded on, androgynous fashion was something his combined personalities birthed. “I started making these clothes because I wanted them to mean something to me and the wearer,” he says. “I thought of introducing all my personalities into one. It really brought focus to my art. Those actions were deliberate for me. I had no body type or gender in mind, and all elements that depicted such, like darts and busts were eliminated.”
While some are using their brands as a form of resistance, others are building to occupy a more political space. The Dukun brand is one which deliberately occupies a more technical space, than a political one. You could tell from its design mechanism, standards and values. “The response was really good, and I got the equal attention of all sexes. There were no fancy manifestos, just my ‘speak less and show more’ philosophy.”
Speaking on how androgyny in the Nigerian fashion industry can be greatly influenced, Michael says bigger platforms have a huge role to play. “Those at the helm of the industry definitely have a role to play. Also, more established designers can try to make themselves more accessible,” he says.
“Androgynous fashion is not putting a man in a woman’s cloth, and vice versa. It’s the making of clothes all genders can wear. If no one is doing it, it’s probably the best time to get it done. Create a space for yourself, and most importantly for others. Representation in androgyny is very important.”
Closely paying attention to the brand Peter Oshobor is building, exposes you to a heightened level of remarkable work and uncharted talent. Founder, Peter, popularly called Dawn, is one whose working processes, both past and present, keenly ushers you into a phase of assuredness. His ability to explore and collaborate with the diverse working community of fashion talents is one that should be jotted and studied. What started off as a modelling agency in 2015, has levelled to being one the most lovable, young androgynous fashion brands in Nigeria.
With less than 5 collections, the brand’s success is pivoting to heights unimaginable. Although the bulk of this success could be attributed to the team he works with and how he gets on his creative juices when being a self critique, a very instrumental character he infuses, is his ability to push past his creative boundaries and other stereotypical laid down rules. “When I released my first collection, I was satisfied; then I got bored of it. The same thing happened with my second release,” he says. “On my third collection, I was satisfied with the draft, until it was released, and I became dissatisfied. While I commend myself as I receive heartwarming appraisals from others, I think that my always wanting to do so much better really contributes.”
Dawn, the brand, which is rightly described with words like Audacious, Contemporary and Traditional, is infusing exciting design elements like cuts, twists, and traditional materials such as cowries and shells. With this, they hope to push, sustain and balance the conversations of traditions and forward thinking. “There has been no negative response so far, except for the time we were still very nascent,” he told NativeMag. “Everybody I’ve worked with, from Waje to Denrele, really liked my services. Some even confess it turned out better than expected. We’re indeed taking androgynous fashion in Nigeria to greater levels.”
Dawn, which literally means ‘new beginning’, is charging a narrative that supports an already existing phenomenon — the presence of androgyny in Nigeria, especially in era’s prior to now. Unlike most people whose brands offer a new, fresh voice to the narrative, Dawn wants to contribute, rather than change. “We’re very huge on collaborations,” he says. “I officially started in 2020 because I wanted to contribute rather than change it. I think we’re supposed to charge at one goal; therefore, everyone ‘changing the narrative’ could cause a kind of division,” he adds.
When asked about the progress and possible future of androgynous fashion in nigeria, Founder, Peter, expressed great pleasures at the thought of it. “It has already started. The pieces I think men would want more are the pieces women find themselves in, and vice versa,” he comments. “We’re moving. It’s slow, but we’re moving. I think people are now normalizing the sights of androgyny. We just have to be really consistent.”
“Social media would be a really great platform to push the narrative of androgyny in Nigeria, and create more awareness. Fashion films could also be a great way to tell the story. They make people interested, using scenes that are relatable. It gives us a narrative to see, appreciate, understand, and share.”